The number of victims of human trafficking identified in Europe has almost doubled in recent years and it is feared that the real data can even be more serious, warned the Group of Experts on the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), of the Council of Europe. In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, the Strasbourg-based, as well as the United Nations, specifically calls for these people not to be forgotten, who must have the same access to protection and care as the rest of the population.
According to the data collected, between 2015 and 2018, there was an increase of 44% (15,310 victims in 2018, compared to 10,598 three years earlier) in the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe, which urges governments to carry out “more efforts” to combat this scourge.
“The hidden nature of human trafficking and the fact that we have encountered problems in the identification process in many countries suggests that the real number of victims could be much higher,” said GRETA President Davor Derenčinović. "It is crucial that the relevant authorities increase their efforts to combat this illegal practice and provide help and support to the victims," he added in a statement.
This urgency is redoubled at a time when, due to the coronavirus epidemic, many countries have withdrawn and ordered inaccessible confinement measures for many of the victims of human trafficking.
“In addition to having suffered psychological trauma and physical injuries, many of these women, men and children have no means of subsistence and may find themselves in an irregular migration or labour situation, without medical or social protection and without documents or resources to be able to return to their homes. countries”, recalls GRETA. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, their situation can only deteriorate, and criminals could take advantage of this global crisis and exploit vulnerability to increase profits from human trafficking”.
“Irregular migrants, asylum seekers and exploited and trafficked persons could be especially at risk from Covid-19 because their work or living environment could expose them to the virus without having the necessary protection”.
Both during the epidemic and when it is overcome, the experts of the Council of Europe insist, that member countries must intensify their efforts to identify and protect victims of human trafficking. In particular, they highlight that two of the "biggest gaps" in the implementation of the Convention against Human Trafficking, signed 14 years ago, are both the identification of child victims of human trafficking and the measures to protect them.
Among the measures to be improved in general, the GRETA experts point to the lack of an adequate “recovery and reflection” period for the victims, in addition to the failures in their identification and the obstacles they face in obtaining compensation. Similarly, the Council of Europe considers the process for traffickers “unsatisfactory”. In too many countries the rate of legal proceedings against those responsible for human trafficking is “low” and the penalties imposed are “not sufficiently dissuasive”.
On the positive side, GRETA notes "some improvements" in the implementation of the Convention, such as the growing number of countries that prevent the conviction of victims of trafficking forced to commit illegal acts or the growing number of governments that criminalize the use of services of trafficking these victims.